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Preview: Freedom to Tinker

Freedom to Tinker

Research and expert commentary on digital technologies in public life

Last Build Date: Fri, 14 Apr 2017 13:16:51 +0000


The future of ad blocking

Fri, 14 Apr 2017 13:16:51 +0000

There’s an ongoing arms race between ad blockers and websites — more and more sites either try to sneak their ads through or force users to disable ad blockers. Most previous discussions have assumed that this is a cat-and-mouse game that will escalate indefinitely. But in a new paper, accompanied by proof-of-concept code, we challenge […]

Dissecting the (Likely) Forthcoming Repeal of the FCC’s Privacy Rulemaking

Mon, 03 Apr 2017 10:52:38 +0000

Last week, the House and Senate both passed a joint resolution that prevents the new privacy rules from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) from taking effect; the rules were released by the FCC last November, and would have bound Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in the United States to a set of practices concerning the collection and […]

Questions for the FBI on Encryption Mandates

Wed, 29 Mar 2017 13:32:43 +0000

I wrote on Monday about how to analyze a proposal to mandate access to encrypted data. FBI Director James Comey, at the University of Texas last week, talked about encryption policy and his hope that some kind of exceptional access for law enforcement will become available. (Here’s a video.)  Let’s look at what Director Comey […]

How to Analyze An Encryption Access Proposal

Mon, 27 Mar 2017 19:36:01 +0000

It looks like the idea of requiring law enforcement access to encrypted data is back in the news, with the UK government apparently pushing for access in the wake of the recent London attack. With that in mind, let’s talk about how one can go about analyzing a proposed access mandate. The first thing to […]

How to buy physical goods using Bitcoin with improved security and privacy

Wed, 22 Mar 2017 15:05:07 +0000

Bitcoin has found success as a decentralized digital currency, but it is only one step toward decentralized digital commerce. Indeed, creating decentralized marketplaces and mechanisms is a nascent and active area of research. In a new paper, we present escrow protocols for cryptocurrencies that bring us closer to decentralized commerce. In any online sale of […]

Pragmatic advice for buying “Internet of Things” devices

Wed, 08 Mar 2017 18:37:41 +0000

We’re hearing an increasing amount about security flaws in “Internet of Things” devices, such as a “messaging” teddy bear with poor security or perhaps Samsung televisions being hackable to become snooping devices. How are you supposed to make purchasing decisions for all of these devices when you have no idea how they work or if […]

How the Politics of Encryption Affects Government Adoption

Tue, 28 Feb 2017 13:40:46 +0000

I wrote yesterday about reports that people in the White House are using encrypted communication apps more often, and why that might be. Today I want to follow up by talking about how the politics of encryption might affect government agencies’ choices about how to secure their information.  I’ll do this by telling the stories of […]

On Encryption Apps in the White House

Mon, 27 Feb 2017 14:19:35 +0000

Politico ran a long story today pointing to an increase in the use of encrypted communication apps by people in DC, government, and the White House specifically. Poisonous political divisions have spawned an encryption arms race across the Trump administration, as both the president’s advisers and career civil servants scramble to cover their digital tracks in […]


Thu, 23 Feb 2017 14:29:47 +0000

Today’s cryptography news is that researchers have discovered a collision in the SHA-1 cryptographic hash function. Though long-expected, this is a notable milestone in the evolution of crypto standards. Kudos to Marc Stevens, Elie Bursztein, Pierre Karpma, Ange Albertine, and Yarik Markov of CWI Amsterdam and Google Research for their result. SHA-1 was standardized by […]

Smart Contracts: Neither Smart nor Contracts?

Mon, 20 Feb 2017 19:15:28 +0000

Karen Levy has an interesting new article critiquing blockchain-based “smart contracts.”  The first part of her title, “Book-Smart, not Street-Smart,” sums up her point. Here’s a snippet: Though smart contracts do have some features that might serve the goals of social justice and fairness, I suggest that they are based on a thin conception of […]